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Beyond organic ñ before it was cool

Water restrictions, soils low in organic material and short growing seasons give many new transplants to Colorado trouble with transplanting their flowers, vegetables and trees. Community design review councils and landscape designers are quick to suggest ìxeriscape,î which means ìdry or low-moisture landscaping,î but itís often mispronounced ìzeroscape,î because of its focus on rock mulch and sparse native plants.Groups of organic gardeners and small farmers are trying to popularize two other organic practices with odd-sounding names: permaculture and regenerative agriculture.ìPermaculture is a design system that looks at nature and how nature does things,î said Becky Elder, co-founder of Pikes Peak Permaculture. Permaculture, derived from the term ìpermanent agriculture,î was developed in 1978 by David Holmgren and Bill Mollison.Gardens and home landscapes that use permaculture principles will have far more perennial edibles inter-planted with other species. The collection of different species, or ìguilds,î work together to add nutrients to the soil, provide living ground cover mulch, attract beneficial insects or repel pests, and provide shade or wind breaks. Rather than spraying pesticides to get rid of aphids, a permaculture home landscaper would plant the flowers that attract ladybugs and other beneficial insects.The complicated relationship between soil, bugs, water, plants and people is why permaculture practitioners have a hard time defining the design practice.ìThe standard answer on what permaculture is, is no one understands and gives the ëdeer in the headlightsí look,î said Doneil Freeman, owner of Freeman Family Farm in Calhan, Colorado. ìItís figuring out the right plants for the right jobs in your little environment. Find the plant that will repel the pest, one that will add nitrogen to the soil; and each thing is a stepping stone to the next.îìItís easy to do mainstream landscaping or even xeriscaping, but itís not easy to design a landscape that harmonizes with nature,î Elder said. But once the design phase is complete, a permaculture homescale landscape should be easier to maintain than most modern suburban landscapes. ìIf youíre working too hard in your landscape, you havenít created a system that works well together. If youíre working too hard, youíre working against nature.îThere are other uses for permaculture ethics and principles besides a garden landscape, Elder said. ìMost people apply it to landscapes, but you can also apply the ethics to your house, your life and how you run your business,î Elder said. ìYou can also take your human ecosystem and connect it with the nature of your community.î The three core ethics of permaculture are care for the earth, care for the people and return the surplus back into the system.The social aspect of permaculture is where the movement loses people in the conservative-leaning Pikes Peak region. ìEl Paso County is a very conservative area, and people here may not be ready for that part of it,î Elder said. ìPermaculture is not a religion; itís a way to get somewhere. We have many people working in gardening and agriculture in the area who are students of permaculture but never use the word.îThe idea of growing food or maintaining landscapes with few outside inputs like purchased fertilizer and pesticides appeals to the more libertarian and conservative parts of the community, including the so-called ìprepperî movement. Some leaders in the sustainability and self-reliance culture, including Jack Spirko of ìThe Survival Podcast,î have popularized the term ìregenerative agriculture.î This focuses on the soil-building and self-sufficient food growing parts of permaculture practices.ìWe have the same thing in mind as preppers, but we get there in a different way,îElder said. Regenerative agriculture is a step beyond sustainability and organic agriculture. Rather than just preserving soil health, ìnotillî practices and continuous mulching and composting will gradually build more soil health, structure and fertility.ìIf you follow typical conventional farming methods, itís constant inputs,î Freeman said. ìThis pest arrives, people just spray it. Less inputs equals less cost, and it creates a system that just regenerates and sustains itself.îPermaculture and regenerative agriculture have drawbacks and detractors. Learning permaculture practices can take a long time. By modeling natural forest systems with several inter-planted species, permaculture gardens can look disorganized compared to row-crops and typical home landscapes. ìItís not easy,î Elder said. ìItís a life study.îDesigns usually rely on rainwater capture and diversion, which leads gardeners into the complicated world of Colorado water laws. ìThe water laws here are a big challenge,î Freeman said. ìTheyíre just absolutely ridiculous in this state. Itís nice to see the rain barrel law signed, but Iíd love to see a day Iíd be able to dig a pond and have nobody care.îHomeowners who want a permaculture-inspired landscape planned for them can hire permaculture designers through Pikes Peak Permaculture. ìIf theyíre interested in learning more about it, Iíd suggest getting a proper book like ëGaiaís Gardení by Toby Hemmingway or ëPermaculture Handbookí by Peter Bane,î Elder said. ìAnd then you can come to permaculture events with PPP, where we do a lot of free classes to introduce people to it.îPikes Peak Permaculture is online at The Regenerative Agriculture group is on Facebook at regenerativeagriculture.

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